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Reviews of action

The statutory review of actions scheme enables APS employees to seek review where they have a complaint about an action or decision relating to their employment.11 APS employees must apply to their agency head for review in the first instance for most employment-related decisions and actions (primary review).

The number and nature of applications under the statutory scheme, and the way they are handled, provides insight into the capacity of agency decision makers to make discretionary judgements in a principles-based employment framework. Data collected from agencies shows that in 2012–13, 37% of agencies received at least one application for a primary review of an employment action, the same result as in 2011–12. In all, 450 applications for review were made and 418 finalised. Applications continue to be concentrated in three large agencies, the Department of Human Services, the Department of Defence and the Australian Taxation Office, which together accounted for 72% of all applications. Together these three agencies make up 50% of the APS workforce.

In 2012–13, there was a significant increase in the proportion of reviews involving performance management decisions, which may reflect an increased focus by agencies on active management of individual performance as a way of improving organisational performance. Two-thirds of agencies finalised reviews that involved performance feedback or assessment (up from 49% in 2011–12). As the proportion of reviews involving performance management has grown, review of decisions involving harassment or bullying has declined, with fewer agencies (18%) finalising reviews involving bullying or harassment in 2012–13 than in 2011–12 (32%).

Sixty-six per cent of agencies reported an average timeframe of less than three months to finalise an application for review. Eighty per cent of finalised reviews upheld the original decision.

If an employee is not satisfied with the outcome of an agency review, or if the agency head considers the action is not reviewable, the employee can apply to the Merit Protection Commissioner for external review.

The Merit Protection Commissioner reported in her annual report for 2012–13 that 46 secondary reviews were finalised, 80% of which resulted in a recommendation to the agency head to uphold the original decision. Forty-three per cent of secondary review applications finalised by the Merit Protection Commissioner in 2012–13 concerned aspects of performance management, compared with 26% in 2011–12, a trend consistent with the increase in primary review applications in this category.12

The Merit Protection Commissioner submitted a case study to the Commissioner as part of the Strengthening the Performance Management Framework project outlining observations on the effectiveness of performance management arrangements in the APS arising from the review casework. The Merit Protection Commissioner noted while agency performance management policies reflected good practice, the effectiveness of the policy implementation varied. In particular, many performance agreements considered on review relied heavily on behavioural performance indicators and lacked clear and measurable performance standards. It was also apparent that lack of trust in the performance management process and poor communication between managers and employees influenced employees to dispute the outcome of performance management processes.

Data collected in this year's employee census was used to explore the relationship between the satisfaction of an employee with their agency's grievance process and their feelings of engagement with their job, team, supervisor and agency (Figure 3.4). Agency grievance processes include the review of actions scheme, but also the dispute resolution arrangements under enterprise agreements, as well as non-statutory processes such as agency policies for responding to complaints of bullying and harassment. In 2013, 39% of employees were confident in their agency's grievance processes, up from 36% in 2012.

Figure 3.4 The relationship between confidence in agency grievance processes and employee engagement, 2013

Source: Employee census

Alternative dispute mechanisms are increasingly being used to good effect by agencies to resolve employee grievances, saving time and money and rebuilding trusting relationships in the workplace. Data collected from agencies showed that 76% of agencies have fully-implemented alternative dispute resolution processes to settle employee grievances or complaints, while another 12% have partly implemented such processes or are developing them. Of those agencies that used alternative dispute resolution processes, 63% used agency managers to conduct the processes, 52% used external providers and 38% used agency employees who are not managers.13

Footnotes

11 The scheme in Section 33 of the Public Service Act 1999 is available to employees who are classified from APS 1 to EL 2 and is not available to SES employees.

12 An application made and/or accepted for review by the Merit Protection Commissioner does not stay any employment action in hand or contemplated by the agency into the same or related matters.

13 Agencies were able to select more than one category.